"When France embarked upon
a course towards a more modern
system of government," Sir Thomas began, "it did not go gently. There was not, I believe,
rioting in the
streets per se, but
there were a great many demonstrations, and much confusion about how the country could deal
with its mounting debts.
Bread had become unreasonably expensive, and many citizens were
resentful that the traditional Estates-General assembly would greatly favor
the interests of
the aristocracy if it were called. Though the King refused to legitimize the radicals of
the Third Estate, who wished to govern themselves, he did acquiesce to a constitutional monarchy.
The revolutionaries were not content with this, however, and made their desires clear with
increasingly uncouth displays of force - the capture of the royal family from Versailles, for
example, and their subsequent removal to Paris to attend to financial concerns.
It was the changes to the clergy that finally convinced the King that the revolution must end, of course, for an end to royal and papal appointment struck a resounding blow against the hierarchy of the Church. Why did the revolutionaries feel it necessary to extend their reforms to religious matters? It was all so sudden, and so far-reaching; and in truth, the Estates-General assembly had never been allowed a chance to settle matters in the traditional way.
The King and his family resolved to flee the city, but they were caught and returned to Paris, where Louis XVI had no choice but to legitimize a new Legislative Assembly. Alas, war with Austria was brewing, and France fared poorly; the Assembly blamed the King, who was deposed and imprisoned. A constitutional convention was called to determine how the rapidly-shifting government should now be reborn, and also what should be done with Louis XVI. It was a difficult debate, but in the end he was convicted of treason and dispatched by guillotine. Marie Antoinette was to follow, some ten months later.
What is one to think of such revolutionary justice? Of the masses leading the masses, of anarchy, of the death of an era? Is this something to celebrate, to commemorate in a museum? I think not."